Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Getting in the Spirit of the Season

I love this time of year, where we celebrate Christmas in our own way. I love to decorate the house, attend themed parties and cookie exchanges, see light shows and any other seasonal attractions, blast Christmas music 24/7, and do the #LightTheWorld calendar (which gives you a service prompt every day of December) provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. M and I don't do gifts because we're pretty minimalist, though we definitely got them as kids and I successfully convinced M we need to do gifts (and all holidays) for our child.

This weekend, we finally got the Christmas tree and decorations up. Marwan always does the tree itself and the lights, because he's so much better at distributing things evenly. Then, I swoop in to spread all the ornaments around. This year, we got a new ornament to commemorate our tour here in Seoul. My favorite ornament, though, is one we received from our high school bus driver, S: a painted bus with our number on it and everything! (For those who don't know, M and I went to high school together and met on the bus. I was stop #1 and he was stop #2. Our commute was about 5 hours round trip every day, so we all got to know each other pretty well in those years.)

I also attended a cookie exchange, one of my favorite holiday traditions. It wasn't until I was chatting with my Australian friend S that I realized this might be a very American thing. Each attendee to the cookie exchange bakes a lot of one kind of cookie. In the case of this party, we were supposed to make six dozen but I was so afraid of not having enough that I made over 100 cookies! I don't know how this started, but my go-to cookie for these exchanges every year is a thumbprint cookie: a sugar cookie with a thumbprint full of whatever jam I feel like or have in the fridge, coated with ribbons of white chocolate. (What's your favorite holiday cookie?)

So anyway, after each person bakes a ton of cookies, we all take them to someone's house and exchange cookies with each other! You bring one kind of cookie but can leave with ten different kinds. The one I attended this year was super organized and the host even prepared a recipe book of all the cookies people made so we could know how to make our favorites. I have a big cookie tin that I only break out specifically for cookie exchanges, and it was brimming with delectable goodies by the time I left the party.

I also took time off of work so we could go on a day trip with our friends (the other N and M) when it would be less crowded. I've wanted to go on this trip for a while. We visited Petite France (쁘띠프랑스), Nami Island (남이선), and the Garden of Morning Calm (아침고교수목원) - all in Gapyeong (가평) about an hour's drive from Seoul. Petite France had some nice views, but it was honestly a little disappointing.

I hoped to find at least one French café or restaurant, but really the only thing that was French about it was the architecture and artifacts inside the buildings. There was a lot of Le Petit Prince art and some attractions that were geared towards little kids, but there wasn't much for adults to do besides walk around and take a few photos.

After Petite France, we drove and took a ferry to Nami Island - a popular destination due to Winter Sonata and several other famous shows having been filmed there. We had a lovely walk around the island and saw wildlife we haven't seen elsewhere in Korea including rabbits, black squirrels, peacocks and peahens, and a lot of ravens.

Our final stop of the trip was the Garden of Morning Calm, which was by far my favorite destination of all. I had heard wonderful things about their annual winter light show, and it did not disappoint me. I'd even go so far as to say it's better than the Christmas light shows I usually go to see in the United States.

They had so many creative installations ranging from the mystical to the religious to the musical. There were clearly defined places to take great photos, as well, so I was extra thankful that we went on a random weekday. I imagine it could get very crowded on the weekends and it would be difficult to get photos without tons of people in the background.

I love celebrating what's special about each season, and that includes Christmas. Especially when you're far from family and your hometown, honoring traditions and commemorating holidays can help you feel less homesick and more settled wherever you are. At least, that's always worked for me. Let me know in the comments below if you have a special holiday tradition or something you love doing to celebrate the holiday season when you're far from home!

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